Thursday, May 10, 2012

Same-Sex Marriage, A Generational Debate

The reasons why and the political calculations President Obama contemplated before finally stepping forward for gay marriage have been already exhaustively analyzed. In accordance, I have nothing new to contribute to that discussion. I do find it interesting that the history-making aspect of the event has been greeted completely without the accolades normally given to matters this important. In a less preoccupied, exhausted electorate this would have been a momentous occasion.

It is easy to be cynical about the political calculation Obama took in reaching this decision. My thoughts have gone in those directions, too. As someone who identifies as LGBT himself, I’ve always that believed that marriage equality was an eventuality, not the product of bombast and confrontation. A series of incremental steps, invisible when analyzed one by one, have caused a huge sea change in popular opinion. The sweeping visuals and fevered mechanizations of another era are nowhere to be found. Here are no planned campaigns stretching from city to city, few stirring speeches, and a modest amount of boots on the ground.

It hasn’t been needed. Older gay men and women remember the days where the entire world seemed to be against them. But these are different times. For many under the age of 40, gay marriage is a non-issue. LGBT rights seem to turn the conventional wisdom of achieving a basic Civil Right upside down. A majority of Americans now favor same-sex marriage, which has required neither a revolution, nor a strictly revolutionary attitude to achieve. Even the same states which define marriage as a strictly heterosexual union, if generational attitude is any clue, will change dramatically when their voting demographics do.

The 2008 Presidential Election was, in some ways, an extended dialogue between Baby Boomers. Gay marriage will also take this form, at least for now. To reiterate, approval and tolerance of marriage equality and homosexuality in general are generational issues. I must remember to see the broadest possible understanding, as I form my own. Even though my parents were not very accepting of my bisexuality when I came out to them in high school, many other Boomer parents were. Among my friends, throughout the course of my life, this controversy is anything but controversial. Political affiliation and ideology, to them, are secondary.

It may be that we, as Americans, have recognized we have had no need to march and protest as we once did. The Occupy movement revealed that even a dramatic call to arms, no matter its potential, produced no significant seismic shift in affecting policy. No one knows what path marriage equality will take, but nevertheless, prior battles have been fought thus far at the ballot box or within state legislatures. More will follow. The timing of when same-sex marriages are pronounced legal in all 50 states will be a measure of how competent government is in setting lasting policy.

It is a broken political system with which we content currently, and expecting it to respond effectively and with haste in this situation may be expecting much more than is feasible. In less than half a century, the United States of America, by itself, has radically changed its perception of homosexuality. An example of the basic evolution we have gone through as a country follows.

The Quaker Meeting of which I am a member splintered in the 1980’s. It was caught between two warring factions who took opposite sides of the gay marriage debate. Some, disgusted with the back and forth left for other Meetings in the area, never to return, and some stormed away in a huff. Others formed their own Worship across the property, a Worship setting designed for LGBTs and allies. Though never intended to be more than temporary, it continues to the present day.

I am less convinced that direct confrontation in this form really works. It took most of a decade and a half for the bad feelings to subside in the example I’ve just cited. And to some of a particular age, those memories will never die. What was meant to be a short-term protest site to harbor LGBTs who felt excluded and unsupported has become a Meeting for Worship in its own right. The controversy long since over, some Friends believe that it is past time for LGBTs to Worship together in the larger Meetingroom as we once all did. What was meant to be a temporary division has become permanent.

Our partitions can swiftly become habits. With enough destructive energy, separation becomes calcified. Anger becomes institutionalized. It is for this reason that I am cautious of too much, too soon. President Obama may have endeared himself to his liberal base, but I feel certain that marriage equality as a country is still a few decades off. Should anyone believe that picking a fight would do any good at all, I would ask him or her to really consider the consequences first.

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